When to Use a Semicolon

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Use a semicolon to connect two separate sentences that are related to each other, or if a series of items is being listed and includes internal punctuation within sections of the list. Avoid overuse of semicolons with advice from a writer and English tutor in this free video on grammar and punctuation.

Part of the Video Series: Grammar & Punctuation
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm here to talk about when to use a semicolon. A semicolon is about halfway between a comma and a period in terms of emphasis -- in terms of the pause -- and you can use it to connect two separate sentences. For example, "Some people say the weather there is too humid; my brother says it's perfect." Those are two related sentences, but it keeps them somewhat separate, but connected. You can also use a semicolon to connect two sentences if the second one starts with some sort of transitional word like "however" or "although." Those kind of words sometimes, incorrectly, get paired with a comma, but you'd want to have either a period or a semicolon at the end of the sentence before. One thing you do want to be careful of is to not overuse semicolons because they do stand out a little bit more. Commas and periods tend to blend in to a sentence pretty well, but semicolons can be easily overused. There's one other time when you would use a semicolon, and that is if you have a series of items in a sentence and each individual item, or at least one of them, has its own internal punctuation such as, "She listens to reggae; symphonies by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven; and opera. So that second item on the list, "symphonies by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven," is a list within a list. So that has commas. And to keep it clear that that is separate from the items before and after it, you put semicolons instead of commas between the items on the main list.


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